TIL 11: Stress Management 3

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Can’t believe I’m halfway through the course already! Was a great one today, kicking off with how we’ve been making use of the info so far in our daily lives.

Key point: if things are ‘getting better’ i.e. you don’t feel so stressed, now is not the time to give up! Training your relaxation/de-stress response is easier when you’re calm, so that when you really need it you’ve got the toolkit to draw on.

Practicing relaxation:

  • reduces the effect of habitual stress reactions
  • can help stop stress building up over time
  • reduces tiredness, by cutting down on unnecessary muscle tension
  • increases confidence in your ability to deal with stressful situations
  • helps with better sleep
  • helps the immune and healing systems.

You cannot – should not, really – eliminate stress entirely from your life, but you can limit the unnecessary and harmful effects. The ‘flight or fight’ response is a very natural survival trait, recognising it as such is healthy – but staying in that state when dealing with day-to-day stresses is not.

A lot of stress in modern life is not triggered by events, but rather stems from ‘ruminating’ thoughts – the ‘what ifs’ and fears. Two points:

  • Thoughts are not facts
  • Right now, in this moment, you are absolutely fine

However, the parts of the brain that deal with logic and emotion are separate. If we get too caught up in the emotional ‘storm’ then using logic to calm it down will be very difficult.

One way to deal with stress and anxiety is to very slowly build up your tolerance to difficult or stressful situations, in as easy a way as possible.

Today’s exercises were on mindfulness. This is becoming a bit of a cliche these days, but one statistic quoted is that we spend an average of 56 minutes out of every hour thinking about the future, or the past – which leaves 4 minutes or less where you are actually in the present moment of your life! Mindfulness is just about paying attention to that ‘now’. It’s sort of the opposite of the autopilot mode we can all go into, particularly with routine tasks. That can have its place, but particularly in moments of stress then the time spent in ‘thinking brain’ – e.g. ruminating over fears and what ifs – can be the worst thing.

To increase mindfulness it can be helpful to use the senses. We all ate plums – first looking at it, examining the colours; feeling the texture; smelling the fruit. Then pay attention to how it feels against your lip, your teeth. Savour the flavour. Where in your mouth do you taste it? Does it change?

After this, we headed out into the sun for ten minutes, and explored the immediate surroundings – again, using as many senses as possible. The sound of a fountain (which many of us had never noticed before!), the warmth of the sun, the smell of the flowers, the sound of birds. This can be easier – or at least more pleasant – in nature, but can be carried into any task.

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